As an art adviser with more than 30 years of experience, many working in the realm of public art, I approached Hank Willis Thomas’s “The Embrace” with trepidation after reading an abundance of negative reviews, some unseemly, about the new sculpture gracing a small plaza on Boston Common. Yet I was captivated by the beautifully fabricated bronze. The piece is humble in scale, with a quiet, elegant vigor.
My concern that the side most photographed, depicting one hand over the other, would solely express the ardor and respect that Coretta Scott King and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. held for one another was alleviated. Looking at the entirety of the memorial in its three dimensions — looking up at it, through it, and straight at it — revealed the essence of sculpture: mass, voids, and expression, experienced both physically and emotionally. The form neither imposes nor overwhelms, and I saw no reference to body parts save loving, protective arms and shoulders and sensitive hands. Within its volume a head and a heart — the conceptual soul of the design — emerge.
Though debate is characteristic of this city, as are conservative aesthetic predilections, “The Embrace” is an inventive, contemporary, conceptually innovative semiabstract representation of two courageous civil rights icons that should be considered mindfully and indeed embraced as a proud addition to Boston’s landscape.
Andrea Foggle Plotkin
On Wednesday my wife and I traveled in to Boston to see “The Embrace.” We were aware of some of the criticism, and on the train into the city we spoke about the need to see the memorial in person before forming an opinion. We both came away thinking that it is an impressive public work of art and an appropriate way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The meaning of it, at least for us, was clear when we viewed it.
Not all memorials have to fit the classic mode. We think that it will be a lasting tribute to the Kings and that many will flock to Boston Common to see it.
Those who worked for years to bring it to fruition deserve our thanks.